You might want to take summer classes to help you graduate faster, keep your mind sharp over the break or to let you focus on a class you find particularly difficult. Whatever the reason, it's important to consider the financial implications. The good news is that financial aid often covers grants and loans for summer classes.
Types of Financial Aid
Various types of financial aid are available to U.S. college students, including federal government grants and loans, state government aid, institutional aid from your college or school and aid from a nonprofit or private organization. The largest financial aid provider is the federal government, which offers loans, grants and work-study funds. To apply for federal financial aid, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Getting Federal Financial Aid
Most U.S. citizens are eligible for federal financial aid if they can demonstrate financial need and meet certain eligibility criteria. Generally, you must have a valid social security number, be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible study program and register with Selective Service if you are male.
The easiest way to complete and submit your FAFSA form is online at fafsa.gov. You can also download and print a FAFSA PDF from the Federal Student Aid website. Some school financial aid offices let students file their FAFSA forms there and submit it electronically on their behalf.
Summer Financial Aid
In many cases financial aid can be used for summer classes, but the requirements and restrictions vary. For example, the University of California Berkeley requires students to enroll in a minimum of six units for summer. Contact the financial aid office at the school to find out how much of your financial aid package can be used during the summer.
When you apply for summer classes, check with your college to determine whether you will need to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or any other financial aid application. Be aware that some schools might require a separate application for summer student loans.
You may be able to use federal Pell Grants for summer classes, but remember that there is a lifetime cap on Pell Grant eligibility. Under federal law, one person can receive no more than six years of Pell Grant funding during her lifetime. The award period beings on July 1 one year and ends on June 30 the following year, so if you don’t attend classes full-time or were not enrolled for an entire year, you may be able to use your Pell Grant for summer classes. Log on to the National Student Loan Data System to find out your Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU).
Your state may have special grant programs for summer classes. For example, the Pennsylvania Summer State Grant Program allows eligible students taking summer courses to receive a grant for the summer term. The online application is available between mid-March and August 15 for the current year's summer term.
Withdrawing From Summer Classes
If you have received summer financial aid but are dropping out, cancelling or failing the course, your financial aid package may be revised, and you may be billed for some or all of your summer financial aid. Be aware of the terms relating to withdrawal from a summer class before you apply for aid.
Alternatives to Financial Aid
If you plan to work part-time as well as go to school during the summer, you may be able to pay for your summer classes yourself. This means you don't have to rely on financial aid, and it reduces the amount you have to repay in the future. Even if you have an offer of summer financial aid, you have the right to turn it down, then reapply for assistance when you go back to school in the fall.
- University of California, Berkeley: Summer Financial Aid for Undergraduate Students
- Federal Student Aid: Basic Eligibility Criteria
- Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency: Pennsylvania Summer State Grant Program
- Federal Student Aid: Filling Out the FAFSA Form
- Federal Student Aid: Calculating Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used
- Federal Student Aid: National Student Loan Data System
Claire Gillespie has been writing and editing for 18 years. She has written about high school and higher education for private clients and various websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.